Maire Geaney

Maire Geaney

Máire Geaney (PhD Candidate)

Medieval carpentry in Ireland: Continuity and change

Supervisor: Dr. Colin Rynne
Post-Medieval and Later Historical Archaeology Research Group


This study will outline the major developments that took place in structural carpentry from the early seventh to the late sixteenth century in Ireland. For convenience, it is organized according to traditional chronological periods, beginning with the Early Medieval period, into the Viking Age before finally finishing in the sixteenth century in the Late Medieval. It will be shown, that despite the poor survival rate of medieval timber structures in Ireland, there is an extensive database of published surveys and excavations available that has enormous potential not only for the study of carpentry techniques and the choices carpenters made but why they made those choices, and what, if any, alternatives were available to them at that time. This study is also about understanding the construction process, the constraints imposed by the materials used and their availability.

In this study it will be shown that the evidence for early medieval carpentry in Ireland is represented by three very different woodworking traditions. On the one hand, there is the indigenous tradition of using post and wattle to build a variety of structures, from waterfront revetments to domestic dwellings and early medieval churches, a tradition that dates back to the Iron Age and continued in use down to the twelfth century and the arrival of the Anglo Normans. Alongside this craft tradition, it will be shown that two further framing techniques were introduced into Ireland at this time 1) the use of earth fast posts to carry the load of the roof, a building tradition common in Europe, especially the Low Countries and 2) the introduction of timber framed structures with sillbeam foundations supporting the wall posts, a building tradition that was probably introduced into Ireland in the late 6th century onwards, as a result of contacts with Roman Britain.
For the early medieval period, the carpentry of four very different timber structures is considered: the early medieval mills, both horizontal and vertical, early medieval millponds and dams, two bridges and the early medieval timber churches. For the Viking period, the evidence for domestic houses and waterfront revetments will be reviewed and analysed while for the late medieval period, several vertical watermills, waterfront revetments and the fragmentary remains of a timber bridge will be examined. But the main focus of attention for this latter period will be the medieval roof structures still surviving over a small number of medieval churches and castles in Ireland.  

The greatest challenge in this research is the variety of structures to be examined. While this makes comparisons difficult, nevertheless, it allows different traditions of carpentry to be identified and the evidence for continuity and change to be established.  


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